Prevent Epidemics with a “One Health” Approach

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
June 5, 2017

A new Zika outbreak could have already started — and we likely wouldn’t know it yet. A recent study published in Nature concludes that the virus spread for months before infections were first reported in South America.[1]

Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced a new, faster method of determining whether mosquitoes are carrying the virus.[2] Detecting the presence of Zika-ridden mosquitos — rather than having to wait for signs of infection in humans — could give doctors and public health authorities the early warning they need to contain outbreaks.

Human health is inextricably linked with animal health and that of the environment — a concept known as “One Health.” Approximately 60 percent of infectious diseases, including Zika, Ebola, and the avian flu, originate in animals.[3] That’s why physicians, veterinarians, and public health experts must to work together to address epidemics.

Governments and non-profit organizations are already implementing a One Health approach. States hire veterinarians who help doctors and public officials address animal-borne diseases.[4] On an international level, the CDC’s Global Disease Detection program partners with more than 50 countries to prevent, identify, and combat new public health concerns in both animals and humans.[5]

To better combat animal-borne diseases, we need to implement One Health approaches even earlier — specifically, in the schools educating our future physicians, veterinarians, and public health professionals.

At St. George’s University, we take One Health seriously. SGU runs a Center for One Health One Medicine that ensures our sympatrically located Schools of Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Graduate Studies, and Arts and Sciences are all working together on a cross-departmental curriculum for our students.

For instance, our course on tropical medicine in Kenya enables students to study the health of a group of nomads whose diet depends on milk and blood from their livestock.[6] Our collaborative research on health and disease burdens across species continues to attend to emerging disease challenges. And community medical clinics providing both medical and veterinary care are routinely conducted for the benefit of humans and animals alike.

We’re also hosting our annual One Health One Medicine Symposium in October 2017. The event will bring together top physicians, veterinarians, public health professionals, and researchers to discuss the adoption of One Health approaches around the world.[7]

Today’s biggest health threats affect humans and animals alike. Doctors, veterinarians, and public health authorities must work together to combat these epidemics.

[1] https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature22402.html

[2] https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/4/16-1772_article

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html

[4] http://www.nasphv.org/

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/healthprotection/gdd/index.html

[6] https://mycampus.sgu.edu/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=ad284745-8103-49f5-bb18-94ac30efdabf&groupId=246297

[7] http://www.sgu.edu/ohom/

 

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